Although he certainly wasn't the only one making Eastern-European-inspired music, Zach Condon's unique mixture of Balkan folk music and indie pop caught the ears of people just over a year ago on the debut Gulag Orkestar. With catchy melodies and a heart-on-sleeve singing style (not to mention a lo-fi recording aesthetic), Beirut was a charming group that stood out from the pack. Earlier this year, the short Lon Gisland EP largely continued this trend, albeit with a slightly more polished recording sense, and now the true follow-up The Flying Club Cup basically picks up where that EP left off.
In addition to the continued emphasis on sound quality, this concise (thirteen songs run under forty minutes) release takes full advantage of a much-expanded group of players, including Owen Palette (of Final Fantasy) on various instruments and string arrangements. The result is another album that bobs and weaves, letting loose with triumphant swells of mini-orchestras at times, while at others again stripping things back to a single instrument and the warm vocals of Condon himself.
With a direct reference to Lord Of The Flies, the release opens with a short track called "A Call to Arms" that's nothing more than a bellow from a conch shell to sound off that things have started. "Nantes" follows, and is one of the best tracks on the release as bright organ, piano, horns and string swells push the beautiful track forward as Condon adds multi-tracked, slightly unsteady vocals that fit perfectly. "A Sunday Smile" is a bit more leisurely, lacking percussion, but still moving with a playful Farfisa melody punctuated by horns, chorus-style vocals, and a layered-in string backing that unfolds the song into a steady crescendo.
On "Cliquot," Palette takes lead vocals, and it gives the track an entirely different feel altogether. Instead of the slightly sleepy croon of Condon, the vocals of Palette are a bit more assertive and bright, and combined with the marching-drum style snares and subtle instrumental twists, it makes for one of the better songs on the album. The beginning of "In the Mausoluem" sounds eerily like the opening section of Sufjan Stevens' "Come On! Feel The Illinoise," but changes up so drastically soon thereafter that the similarity is nearly forgotten. Blending together everything from a touch of disco-funk to Bollywood soundtracks, the shuffling track (with another great string arrangement from Palette) moves far away from what Beirut has done to date.
The more stripped-down tracks are a bit more hit-or-miss, with most following a fairly similar structure (start out with only voice and a single instrument before closing out with filled-out instrumentation), and on the last couple tracks the group veers a lot closer to the sound of their older songs than the slightly more inventive earlier tracks. From the music included to the cover artwork of the album, there's a bit more of a French influence here, and that's a good thing from a group who could have easily fallen into even more of a pattern. Given the raucous tone of several of the short pieces on the Lon Gisland EP, I think a couple more up-tempo pieces would have served this release well, because in the end, The Flying Club Cup doesn't feel quite as revelatory as the debut from the group. That said, it's still a solid follow-up, and the collaboration with Palette really pays dividends in grandiosity of sound.